After pulling screening of banned Singapore film, NGO says Putrajaya stifling civil freedom

Anna Har, Freedom Film Fest director and Komas executive director. — Picture by Yiswaree Palansamy
Anna Har, Freedom Film Fest director and Komas executive director. — Picture by Yiswaree Palansamy

PETALING JAYA, Oct 9 — Human rights group Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas) accused Putrajaya today of trampling on civil rights by allegedly pressuring it into cancelling its screening of the banned Singaporean documentary on political exiles.

Its executive director Anna Har said Komas was merely trying to create avenues for better civil discourse and had not intended to “drum any propaganda” into anyone by screening th controversial film.

“It also violates our freedom of information and expression,” she complained.

Har who is also the director of Freedom Film Fest (FFF) director, was reacting to the forced cancellation of the screening of the Singaporean production on political exiles in the city-state

Komas had earlier alleged that the screening was pulled due to mounting pressure from Putrajaya against the venue owner in Kuantan.

Lamenting the last-minute cancellation, Har said the venue was only selected after several futile attempts to host the event in hotels.

“This is a private event and we are not screening it in theaters, so why come after us?”

She said as per FFF custom, a discussion would be held at the end of every movie screening to gauge the viewers thoughts about the film and the issues highlighted in it.

This, she said, is to allow room for discourse among viewers in a more interactive environment, which she added is a rarity in Malaysia.

“In Malaysia, we are told what to think...what BN (Barisan Nasional) and the Opposition tell you, is what issues are about. Malaysians should have an avenue to ask more questions and get more information before they make a stand on a particular issue,” Har said, adding that the FFF provides this avenue.

She said that Malaysia also lacks platforms for the public to come together and speak in a civil manner.

“Its always about the right and the wrong… not so much about proper discussions.

“We have lost the skill of trying to discuss issues in a civil manner and if the authorities keep on harassing, they are closing down the few venues for freedom of expression an information.”

Har also expressed disappointment that the Home Ministry’s officials had not approached FFF and Komas over the movie screening and had resorted to ‘threaten’ the venue owner instead.

“Tell us your issues and let’s see how we can work things out,” Har said.

On Facebook today, Komas had cited “unforeseen circumstances” that involved three visits allegedly paid by Home Ministry officials to the venue owner, during which she was threatened with the revocation of her business licence.

“Since then, she has decided that she won’t be able to take the risk to host the screening event in her place. One of the reasons mentioned was that we are screening a film banned in Singapore,” the rights group posted on a Facebook page for the film festival.

The screening of the film titled “To Singapore, with love”, a documentary, was originally scheduled for October 11.

Produced and directed by Singaporean director, Tan Pin Pin, the film examines the case of political exiles in the city-state and features interviews with nine former activists, student leaders, and self-confessed communists who fled Singapore from the 1960s until the 1980s and are currently settled in Malaysia, Britain and Thailand.

On September 10, the Media Development Authority (MDA), Singapore’s media regulator, banned the documentary, saying it provided a “distorted and untruthful” account of the exiles’ situation.

It said the film’s contents undermined national security because it showed “legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals”.

Freedom Film Fest screened the banned film in Johor Baru last month, drawing hundreds of defiant Singaporeans who attended the screening to protest the censorship.

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